Struggle of Mental Health in South Asian Families

There is so much advice dished out to kids, everyone has a wise word without a thought to it’s impact on a child’s mental health. This is specially true in South Asian families like mine.  One of the best pieces of advice given to me by my father is  people treat you with contempt often to hide their own insecurities”.

Mostly, I have recalled this whenever I cannot understand someone being mean without a reason. There are people you know fleetingly, and their bad behaviour can be discounted as a flaw in their own selves.

Then there are those, who are closer to you and have a repeated negative pattern in their behaviour. It affects your mental health and brings to mind the pertinent questions

  1. Is this mental abuse?
  2. Have we been normalizing mental abuse in the name of bad behaviour?

People have been facing so many demons lately, the pandemic taking toll on mental well-being and an uncertain future.  When something so devastating is unfolding, important issues like children’s mental health tend to slip through the cracks.

With stay-at-home orders and lock downs in place, many people including kids, are forced to live their reality of abuse without means to escape.

In a toxic situation, physical abuse is like a writing on the wall – it can be seen or felt and as a result there is a better chance of addressing it. Whereas, mental abuse being equally damaging, hides behind better layers.

Even though mental abuse directly impacts a person’s mental health – leaving deeper and often lasting wounds. The abuse might go unnoticed, not just by the world but also by the person enduring it.


When mental health is discussed, often children are considered immune to these issues.

There is a basic difference between “I’m good enough” and “I’m better than others”. One is an assertion of one’s own worth, other is a degradation of another’s worth and needs to be checked . We have to teach kids to not oscillate between the two. Rather than over-confident or self-doubting kids, we need to raise our children believing in their own worth.

Now where does family come in when talking about mental abuse? It does and many with mental health issues will vouch for it. At times, family is your first stop to a child’s damaged self-esteem and low trust issues.

Coming from a culture of extended families, I can affirm for the number of times a child can feel stifled and worthless. Often in our family system, judgement and criticism are overlooked in the name of loving care.

Most families work on the concept “children do not get insulted or feel insulted.” Figure this. In our part of the world children are cared for, fed and educated but mental health is a non-issue.

What a child might feel can best be described as “living under a microscope”. Growing up over-critical of self and others. This scrutiny varies between children depending on their gender too, but that is a topic for another day.


If anyone is belittled or forced to feel bad about themselves by way of behaviour or words, it accounts for mental abuse. This is a simplified definition and how I perceive it owing to my experiences.
It might not feel as bad as physical abuse with no visible scars, but the effects are lasting and at times worse.

A parent abuses a child, verbally or otherwise, and makes the child believe it to be his/her own fault, by making the parent mad. This is a classic example of mental abuse resulting in the child’s self-confidence taking a major hit. The repercussions are lifelong – anything that goes wrong in life is accompanied by self-guilt.

In a household, an abusive partner blames the other partner for anything being wrong in the relationship. Anybody using emotional blackmail and playing mental tricks to control the other person in the name of love.
This is all mental abuse in its day to day form and children notice and remember. They might normalize all this in their future relationships.

mental health south asian families


I’m talking here about taking steps and trying to break the chain. I might not have identified mental abuse as a child but I can do better for my kid.

Any child being subjected to mental abuse directly or indirectly (witnessing it) is bound to be affected by it. So we need to “break the chain”.

First, identify it. If you are in a position where you feel degraded or belittled constantly, question it. Ask yourself “Is this normal?”

“Do I deserve to be disrespected?”

If you don’t like the answers, think about “What can I do to change this?”

Look for help, ask for it. If you feel safe talking to the person responsible, approach them or go to people you can trust. Take some action because if you have children witnessing, you are preparing them to accept a life of mental abuse.

As for children. We as parents might snap at times when the child is just being a child and I do not fault any parent for it. What I insist on is, if you feel you are in the wrong – apologize.
Talk to the child about your situation and how they must be feeling. Make them understand the concept “it’s just a bad day not a bad life.”

Creating a loving environment might just not be enough. A child needs a safe space where they can be themselves and have a voice. Without the fear of being judged, they should be allowed to make mistakes and learn.

Do not be censorious with children, not on their physical attributes nor on their mental strength. Don’t be quick to comment on other people’s sexual orientation in front of children, as they might feel compelled to hide their own identity.

Comparison between kids is never constructive criticism. It never helps.

All of the above may feel as small day to day slip ups but have lasting affect on mental health.

You can question my authority on the subject of mental health. I have none in the professional capacity but I’m sharing this as a parent and someone ready to work for improvement. I’m sure all the fellow parents out there will have something to add to this.

Do let us know your thoughts on the subject so we can try to work towards better mental health collectively, not just ours but all the families that surround us.

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